TOUCH OF AMBER
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Amber Brown tapped a stylus against her tablet. She neatly checked the empty boxes remaining beside the items on her inventory sheet as she confirmed the corresponding crate had been stowed beneath the bus about to depart. Each box had been carefully packed and logged to ensure the essentials made it to their destination.
“I think this is the last of them. Number 25-C of the green labels,” Kaige—her future brother-in-law—told her as he reached over her shoulder and poked the designated entry on her list. If his lip curled in a bit of a grin behind the fall of his blond dreadlocks, she ignored his mockery of her complex system.
It was his damn fault she was short-staffed, since he’d stolen her sister away from Brown & Brown. On top of that, Amber’s brand-spanking-new replacement partner was one of the four brides boarding the Wedding Partymobile the Hot Rods mechanics had retrofitted for this special trip. She never would have guessed the sleek monstrosity in front of her had started its life as a bright yellow school bus.
Then again, this gang had a way of transforming most things—and people—they touched.
“Thanks.” She smiled despite her gritted teeth until he turned away to assist her pregnant sister up the stairs. As soon as his attention had winged back to his fiancée, she scrubbed the offending fingerprint he’d left on the shiny surface of her tablet with the oyster-hued silk of her long-sleeved blouse. Anal? Yup. But she liked things precisely as they should be. Habitual organization contributed to her success.
How else could a single event planner survive the coordination of a quadruple unconventional destination wedding without going absolutely bonkers? Then again, she hadn’t pulled it off just yet.
It was nearly impossible to concentrate with the chaos that constantly swirled around her when she entered the Hot Rods’ domain. Eight sexy mechanics, their feisty mates, a kid brother and even a puppy—not to mention their dad, who kept causing Amber’s own mother to swoon with a series of steamy stares. Together, they made for one big, noisy, rowdy—and, admittedly, fun—group.
It was her job to wrangle them.
She deserved a raise.
“Quinn, grab Buster McHightops’s leash. You’re in charge of him until we get to Bare Natural, okay?” She smiled at the teenager, who wouldn’t mind dog-sitting one bit. In fact, he seemed to stand a bit taller knowing she trusted him to take responsibility for the shop’s mascot.
“Sure, Amber.” He offered her a sheepish smile as he and the puppy trundled toward the bus stairs, which had been painted in a Hot Rods’ version of polka dots—skulls and fireballs—courtesy of Mustang Sally. He hadn’t said much about their trip, but he’d been the first one packed and ready to leave for their mini-vacation, even though the naturist resort was closed, reserved exclusively for their festivities.
The allure of naked breasts had nothing on fishing, romping through the woods and hanging out with his big brother. Especially for a kid who’d never experienced any of those fundamental delights.
“Hang on. Come here a second, please.” Amber curled her fingers until he whipped around.
She wrapped him in a one-armed hug and squeezed before he pulled back, startled.
“What was that for?” He seemed unsure of how to react as his cheeks reddened.
“Because I like you.” She also knew what it was like to shoulder worry beyond your years as a child. At least she’d had Nola for company. Going it alone…he must have shared every ounce of Roman’s tough genes to have survived. “Now get your ass on that bus or we’re going to be late.”
“Come on, Buster.” Quinn laughed as he raced the dog out of sight.
One of the mirrored bus windows dropped open and Kaelyn’s beautiful blue eyes appeared in the gap. “Are you sure you don’t need me to help?”
“Yep. Just enjoy the ride. You only get married once.” Amber frowned. “Well, I hope. I mean, don’t expect me to do this over again if you don’t stick it out with Bryce. Perfection isn’t easy to arrange.”
“And we know you don’t settle for anything less.” The groom winked at her from behind his fiancée, though they both understood his barb wasn’t too far from the truth. Nearly obsessive about control, Amber made the ideal project coordinator.
As for her personal life, well, that sucked. Either the same tactics weren’t going to cut it on that front or she simply hadn’t taken a day off in forever to apply what she’d learned in her professional capacity. She hoped it was that.
Hanging around these crazy couples was starting to make her doubt everything she’d held as fact. They seemed more secure, not less, since falling in love. That made her dream…
Or at least, maybe it would if she ever had time to sleep again.
After these weddings were over, she promised herself. She could survive three more days, right?
Amber closed the hatches, locked them, then took one final look around. She drew a deep breath, straightened her suit’s skirt then braced herself before boarding the Partymobile.
Eli London, the garage’s owner and unofficial leader of the Hot Rods gang, sat behind the wheel, checking the dials and gauges while his GPS calculated their route.
“All right, Cobra.” She smiled at him. “Let me do a roll call and we’ll be set to pull out.”
“That’s what he said,” Quinn muttered loud enough for his brother, who sat directly behind him, to hear. Roman snorted until Carver glared at him and he tried to snuff the appreciation of his underage sibling’s inappropriateness. The two grooms of couple number four were too damn handsome to scold.
That didn’t stop Amber’s mom, though.
From where she shared a black leather seat with Tom, Eli’s dad, at the head of the bus, across the aisle from Quinn and Buster, she whipped around fast enough that Amber wished she could warn the kid of the impending slap down.
“Quinn London!” She shook her finger for added effect, though using his new family’s name helped mitigate her outrage. “Is that any way to talk? You’ve been listening to those Powertools guys too much lately. I’m going to have to set them straight when we get there.”
The teenager groaned and covered his face as if apologizing in advance to their mutual friends. “Sorry, Ms. Brown.”
“That’s better,” she huffed.
Tom was quick to distract her from her ire, coming to Quinn’s rescue with a grin and a wink over Willie’s head.
Behind the more traditional seating up front, the gang had worked their magic, turning the back of the bus into some sort of lounge. It looked entirely too decadent for Amber, considering her sister was one of the women curled up between the hunks who occupied far more than their fair share of the couches.
Tangled together, their bodies became indistinguishable in the dusky interior. Black leather, plush midnight carpet and a matching high ceiling made the space intimate and private as could be. On purpose, she was sure.
“Listen up!” Amber’s shout cut through the rumble of their chatter. “I’m making sure nobody’s left behind. Sally!”
No one answered, though she could clearly see the woman perched on Alanso’s lap, making out with her husband—well, one of them, since Eli was driving. Her fingers were splayed on the bald man’s head, keeping him close even when he tried to acknowledge Amber’s shout.
Thank God she’d have a seat to herself to focus on work so she could ignore the barrage of pheromones that seemed to hover around this gang like a cloud, poisoning Amber’s ambition with dangerous wishes for a distraction of that caliber.
Finally Holden kicked Alanso’s scuffed motorcycle boot with a steel-toe of his own.
“Come on, dude. There will be plenty of time for that once we’re on the road. It’s not like you’re gonna be able to take care of business anyway. Try not to torture yourself. Sooner we leave, sooner we get there.”
If she could see better in the dim lighting, Amber would have sworn she caught a feral gleam in the eyes of the men from where she stood. She shivered at the raw power of their desire, even though it wasn’t aimed at her.
“Sally,” Amber said again as she ticked off the female mechanic from her list.
“Use her real name and I bet she’ll answer,” Bryce teased.
“Mustang!” Amber humored them.
“Yep. I’m here.” The woman stopped feasting on Al long enough to flash a thumbs-up.
Amber chuckled along with the rest of the gang.
She rolled her eyes and called next to Alanso, though she could plainly see him.
Methodical, she refused to skip a step even if it was obvious.
“Kaige…er…Nova?” she amended.
“Reporting for duty, ma’am!” He offered her a salute that had Nola bursting into a fit of giggles.
“I’m here too, sis.” She saved Amber a step.
“Bryce?” Amber groaned. “I mean, Rebel.”
“I’m onboard. And so is Kae. Not getting out of my sight until she’s officially mine.” He beamed at his lovely bride-to-be before they also deteriorated into a make-out session.
Holden grinned and called back, “Yep. I’m in the house. Well, the sweet Partymobile, anyway.”
“You’ve got me too, Amber.” His fiancée, Sabra, piped up from where she was wedged into the corner of the couch between two guys. Amber might have assumed she’d broken a limb to contort into that position, except the unusual pose was hardly a stretch for the yoga expert. A skill that must come in handy in their group bedroom gymnastics, Amber figured. She slammed the door on that meandering thought before she could visualize her sister’s involvement in the sexual side of their obviously electric relationship.
“Barracuda and Meep,” she finished, nodding as she looked over at Roman and Carver. The pair snuggled into their private seat behind Quinn, their hands entwined as they wore huge, matching grins.
“Ready for takeoff,” Carver barked.
“Very ready,” Roman agreed.
Amber ignored their insinuations and gave Eli the okay to go. “That’s all fifteen of us. Plus the dog.”
“Poor Fuzzi.” Sabra lamented her cat, who would be holding down the Hot Rods’ apartment while they were away, watched by a local pet sitter in their absence.
“Are you kidding? That cat’s not going to know what to do with all that space to itself. It’s going to love every minute of dog-free time it can get.” Holden knew exactly how to salve Sabra’s guilt.
“You’re right about that.” She smiled. “Maybe I just need to be distracted for a while until the house is out of sight.”
“I can manage that.” Holden leaned in and whispered something—undoubtedly naughty—in his lover’s ear.
“You kids behave yourselves!” Tom bellowed from the front seat before they’d even gotten out of the parking lot. “Don’t make me have my son turn this bus around or you’ll be sorry!”
Amber included. Tom was one of the greatest guys she’d ever met. If her mom had to fall for anyone, she was glad it looked like it might be him. Maybe. They’d been dancing around each other for months. Willie deserved a break in the love department.
Don’t you too? a small part of her wondered until she muted the rogue thought.
Before sitting down, Amber told everyone what she’d been working on that morning. “I packed a cooler over there full of snacks. I made each of you your favorite sandwiches. There are drinks too, marked with your names—the uncool ones, sorry. It’s a five-hour drive, so whenever you get hungry, dig in.”
“That was really sweet of you. Thanks, Amber.” Carver smiled from his seat across the aisle from her.
“More like efficient. That way we won’t have to lose time stopping more than once for a bathroom break when Alanso takes over driving halfway as planned. I have a lot to do when we arrive.” She might have sounded brusque, but it was only honest.
“You hear that, boys?” Meep yelled over his shoulder. “If any of you smuggled some beer on board, and I’d be disappointed if you didn’t, you’d better pace yourselves. This bus is only making one pit stop.”
“Fuck. I told you we should have built a bathroom,” Bryce grumbled from the rear.
“Next time.” Kaige added, “I think we could do a pretty good business selling these rigs to limo companies. Add it to the business plan, Nola.”
“Already beat you to it, babe,” she answered.
Those two practically thought with one brain. Amber smiled as she prepared to tune them out so she could finalize the seating chart, confirm the flower deliveries and respond to several dozen other emails from vendors and service providers so that no detail was left unattended.
After that she had to pay some invoices and enter a crap ton of receipts into her accounting software. Plenty to keep her busy for the entire trip.
Amber checked her watch a long time later, lifting her head briefly to study the road signs they whizzed past. They were making good time. Getting close. She might pick up a half hour if Alanso kept up this pace.
She stretched, having finally finished her administrative duties. Beside her, Carver and Roman were playing a video game on their tablet. Quinn had his headphones on and was rocking out. Tom and her mom hadn’t stopped chatting the entire ride.
Turning around, she spied most of the adults crashed out, taking advantage of the downtime to catch up on their rest. Under other circumstances, she suspected they’d have amused themselves with pleasuring each other. Between that and the crazy hours they’d been putting in at the shop in anticipation of their stint away, they had to be half as exhausted as she was.
Feeling decadent, she neatly rolled her sweater into a soft log, put it against the window, then rested her head on it. Her eyelids immediately drooped as she planned to make the most of the remaining travel time. If she got in a power nap now, she could stay up later tonight, working on the decorations at the new gazebo the Powertools crew had built to her specifications for the ceremony.
Except she swore she had no sooner closed her eyes than a loud bang snapped them wide open once more. The explosive sound was immediately followed by them jerking hard to the right then back to the left as they fishtailed. Her face rapped against the window. Alanso cursed as Eli shouted for his mate.
Tires screeched and rapid-fire Spanish filled the bus as Alanso wrestled the beast to the side of the road. They came to a stop with a lurch. The scent of burning rubber stung the inside of her nose.
“Holy shit! Al!” Eli burst from the rear of the bus to the front before Amber could orient herself. “What happened? Are you okay?”
Meanwhile, Roman was asking her the same. Tenderly, she poked at her cheekbone, then winced. It would probably make a bit of a bump later, but she seemed fine. Everyone else too, thank God.
They began to disembark, each of them hugging the tree line as far from the highway as possible while Eli, Kaige and Bryce surveyed the damage. Her mom fussed unnecessarily over the rising knot on Amber’s face until the guys returned to give Tom a report.
“Some asshole in front of us didn’t have his load secured,” Alanso explained. “I saw the ladder starting to slide, but I couldn’t get out of the way entirely. It landed stretched out across the whole lane and there were cars on either side of us. Mierda!”
“You did the best you could. No one’s hurt. It blew one of the tires, that’s all.” Eli rubbed the back of Alanso’s neck as he spoke. “Pretty great driving there, Al.”
Kaige looked angry as he wrapped Nola in his arms and rubbed her belly. Still, he was able to keep his temper in check so that he didn’t upset his fiancée or their unborn child any more than they’d already been shaken up by the wreck.
Tom glanced around from person to person, nodding as he made sure they were each all right.
“The bad news is that we had to ditch the spare tire to fit in everyone’s crap.” Bryce groaned. “How bad is it? Maybe we can make a patch to get us to the next exit.”
Amber squinted at the shredded tread. She didn’t have to be an expert to know there was no way. “You’re mechanics, not MacGyver. What do you need? Write it down and I’ll call a cab to go pick it up.”
She already had her browser open and her finger hovering over the link for the nearest cab company as she mentally calculated the length of the delay and the impact to her schedule. Sabra loomed over her shoulder with her ever-present video camera. At least this would make for some drama on the Hot Rods reality show.
“You’re not going alone.” Eli shook his head. “In fact, this thing is huge. Heavy and dirty, probably. One of us can handle it. Just because you’re planning the wedding doesn’t mean you’re our slave. Jesus. Let someone else do this.”
She didn’t pay him much mind.
Before she could tap the link and put in a request to the online dispatcher, a loud rumble startled her. She took a few steps farther away from the road. So did everyone else. Buster McHightops barked like a maniac as a motorcycle rolled onto the shoulder.
The damn thing nearly deafened Amber.
Badass and beefy, the bike was undeniably sexy. Deep blue metallic paint glinted in the afternoon sunlight and a painting of a lone wolf was revealed when the rider climbed off.
The man who’d wrangled the machine wasn’t bad either. His long legs were encased in denim and his charcoal T-shirt was partially obscured by a black leather motorcycle jacket with more zippers than seemed entirely necessary. The contraption made Amber want to bury her nose in it and breathe deep.
When he flipped up his visor, a piercing gaze bored into her as if he could feel her gawking, mentally undressing him in a way she never would have admitted to. The tattoos she glimpsed disappearing into the wrist of his jacket would decorate the solid muscles she could tell were hiding beneath soft cotton.
“Wow,” Nola murmured from beside her.
“Hey!” Kaige growled.
“Sorry.” She laughed. “I may be taken, but I’m not blind. Besides, I might as well be invisible. He’s staring at my sister.”
“Is not.” Amber turned to Nola, breaking the connection with the newcomer. She felt the snap of it recoiling in her guts as if it had been a physical link. Something about him fascinated her. Drew her in. Made him seem…familiar?
Roman roared and rushed past her to greet the mystery man, putting his arms around the guy’s broad, leather-clad shoulders for a brusque man-hug followed by a solid fist bump. No one could hear their exchange in the rush of traffic passing nearby. Eli waved them over to join the rest of the Hot Rods assembled on the shoulder of the highway.
The way the guy swaggered, calm, sure, and with the tiniest hint of a limp, clued her in.
He was familiar because she’d seen him before. Even at a distance, he’d intrigued her.
“This is Gavyn, Kayla’s brother.”
Amber heard what Roman was saying. Hell, she even knew who the guy was, having noticed him wandering through the background on videochats with the Powertools before. He was living temporarily-but-not-so-temporarily at Bare Natural while he got himself clean, sober and on his feet.
“I swerved to miss that fucking ladder too. On a motorcycle, well, yeah… It’d have hurt more than in your bus, that’s for sure. I started to pull over to call the cops so they can pick it up, and that’s when I saw your ride. Figured it could only belong to one group of crazy mechanics I know given that paint job.” He held out his hand to Roman for a high five. “It’s badass. Good job.”
Amber still couldn’t do more than gape at Gavyn as her mouth went dry and her knees threatened to buckle. Get it together. Fix the problem. Don’t get distracted.
She shook her head, pressing the bump that had formed with two fingers when it throbbed softly. And that’s when she realized Eli had been explaining their plan.
“No need to call a cab. I’ll take you into town. I’m already here. It’s no problem.” He held out his hand to Amber. She couldn’t bring herself to take it. If she did, she might not be able to let go of those strong, thick fingers encased in driving gloves that left his knuckles bare.
Her hesitation went on long enough to be apparent.
“Go ahead, Amber.” Her mother betrayed her, her mouth curled up slightly on one side. “The rest of these big lugs aren’t going to make very good riding partners for this nice fellow.”
“I’m not dressed for…” She rounded on her mom with wide eyes, hoping she could transmit the what-the-hell-are-you-doing glare she intended.
“Nothing prettier than a woman in a skirt on the back of a motorcycle,” Alanso practically purred. “You’re dressed perfectly for this job, chica.”
And her own damn sister pushed her over the edge. “Go ahead, sis. I dare you.”
Because Amber never had been able to refuse a challenge.
“Fine.” She marched over to their savior and steeled herself for the full body contact they were about to make as she straddled his wide machine. “I’m counting on you to drive faster than some damn cab.”
Both for the sake of her timeline and her sanity.
“You got it.” He took her hand, then lifted it to the gap in his helmet, placing a kiss on her knuckles. His lips were warm and demanding enough to make her wonder what it would be like to have his mouth on hers without more than a dozen of their closest friends and family looking on. “Anything for a lady.”
Gavyn assisted her up the grassy incline, then watched without blinking as she hiked her skirt to the very tops of her thighs. Why had she thought a pencil skirt was the right choice for today?
“Nice,” she thought she heard him murmur before flipping his visor closed and climbing onboard. He kept the motorcycle steady as she scrambled on behind him, loving the feel of the warm metal and leather between her legs.
“Closer,” he instructed as he grasped her hands and placed them on his tight abs.
“Hang on tight. We’re not going far, but you don’t have a helmet and I assume you don’t ride much.”
More like never.
She’d never ridden a motorcycle, or a man, as fine as this one.
Even the new mega-organizing binder she’d had her eye on hadn’t excited her as much as Gavyn. What the hell? she thought as she hid her smile against his strong shoulder.